This story was first published on June 30, 2017, and has been updated.
Flying along a cable or making your way through an elevated ropes course can be more thrilling than a roller coaster ride. Ziplines and ropes courses have been steadily growing in number and size, with many including scaled-down portions for the younger set.
With these adventures, there’s no high-tech mechanics involved, and no sitting back for the ride. It’s a physical and emotional rush of conquering fears and accepting the challenge. For kids, that sense of accomplishment is priceless. You can see kids transition from a sometimes nervous “Can I do that?” look in their eyes to the punch-in-the-air “Oh yeah!” excitement at the end.
Traversing ropes courses and flying along a zipline involve physical exercise that can improve strength, endurance, and flexibility. The triumph is as important as the jubilation of success.
Here’s where kids can zip and zoom throughout the Pittsburgh area:
Carnegie Science Center
Experience the ropes challenge course and zipline at Carnegie Science Center within the SportsWorks complex. The idea appealed to Science Center planners for the fun of it, of course, but they also considered the cross-over science lessons offered. Signage points out concepts like kinetic and potential energy, angles of momentum, and gravitational force.
The second-story part of the course offers 11 challenge elements before reaching the zipline. Plucky participants who are 48-inches or taller will walk the plank, balance on rolling logs, walk a rope bridge, and climb across a horizontal net. The free-flowing course gives kids the opportunity to decide on the direction they take.
Younger kids can do the same challenges on a smaller version of the course directly underneath. On Sky Tykes, kids are harnessed in, too, but the level allows Mom or Dad to walk alongside and offer encouragement.
The SportsWorks ropes courses are free with Science Center admission. Fun on the indoor course goes on without fear of nasty weather, making it a fine option on rainy days.
Go Ape North Park
Go Ape tree-top adventures in North Park is one of this national chain’s 16 locations. This forest canopy course takes adventurers through 41 crossings, two Tarzan swings, and five ziplines, the longest of which is 440 feet. Some of the platform elements allow you to choose between easy, advanced or expert, which can add a little more competition between siblings.
It is amazing how easily kids adapt to strolling along rope bridges at tree-top levels as high as 40 feet. The exhilaration of walking among the trees in the shaded forest is a terrific way to appreciate this beautiful county park.
The 2- to 3-hour escapade begins with a 30-minute safety class, so kids are prepared for the challenges ahead.
Ten-year-olds, at least 55 inches tall, are the youngest allowed to participate. An accompanying adult is required for every two kids between 10 to 15 years. Those 16 and 17 years need a parent-signed waiver, which can be printed at home, signed and brought to Go Ape.
Urban Air Adventure Park
Head to Cranberry for the Sky Rider indoor coaster at Urban Air Adventure Park. Billed as a “no skill” ride, the experience is a fun, gravity-defying thrill for kids. They strap in and are sent zipping across the play space. Urban Air includes a ropes course to challenge kids moving high above the ground. Everything is indoors, making it a terrific destination during bad weather.
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort
Fun is taken very seriously at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, where the adventure center includes some exciting ropes courses, ziplines and features not seen anywhere else in the area.
The QuickJump, for example, begins at the height of four stories. From 50 feet off the ground, kids in the QuickJump harness are released for a screaming free fall until they’re caught toward the end and gently lowered to the ground. Minimum weight is 40 pounds on this one.
The Little Tykes rope course is 6 feet off the ground and includes eight obstacles and two ziplines, including a 200-foot platform to ground zip. Kids can traverse a swinging log, a cable walk, swinging tires, and a suspended bridge. This course is suggested for ages 4 to 8 years.
The 40-foot-high Fatbird Canopy course finishes with the 3,000-foot Fatbird Super Flyer zipline, where you can reach a speed of 60 miles per hour. But before you get there, spend about 45 minutes working your way through challenges like the Burma Bridge and stationary log. The minimum height here is 52 inches.
Teens will enjoy the 20-foot-high Ropes Course. With obstacles carrying names like (gulp!) Walk the Plank, Leap of Faith, X-Factor, and Tight Rope, we can guess the levels of tension – and rewards.
Nemacolin’s activities are open to the public, not just guests staying at the resort, but there are some great packages if you want to plan an active family vacation. Reservations are suggested for most adventures.
Ohiopyle Zipline Adventure Park
The family-owned Ohiopyle Zipline Adventure Park offers two levels of zipline courses to allow kids as young as 4 years to enjoy the thrill. The Laurel Highlands company includes rafting, camping, rock climbing, and other outdoor activities. Packages can be combined to get the most out of your visit.
Ages 10 and older begin their zipline excursion by climbing up the 25-foot entry net. Balance is challenged on elements like the Tarzan Walk and Rickety Bridge. Make your way through the Spider’s Web and leap across the Swing Planks. The course ends with the Silver Surfer that zooms through the trees to the 200-foot zipline.
Ages 4 to 9 climb the entry net, then work through obstacles like the Taco Net and Big Foot’s Footprints before rocketing down a 90-foot zipline. Their flush of pride on the ground is no less impressive.
The Laurel Ridgeline Zipline Tour at Seven Springs begins with kids from age 10 and a minimum of 90 pounds. This rigorous 3-hour course includes 10 ziplines that range from 145 to 1,500 feet in length. The quest incorporates rappels and rope bridges, too. Expected to be anywhere from 2 to 175 feet off the ground. The tour begins with a chairlift to the top of the mountain, then gradually makes its way back down through graceful ziplines.
The 2-hour Screaming Hawk Zipline sends riders down nearly 2,000 feet of zippy goodness. Kids must be at least 10 years and weigh 70 pounds. The progressively faster ziplines will reach speeds as fast as 30 miles per hour.